I was sold to a farmer in Heilongjiang. It was a long journey in a bus. I was so scared that I felt I was going to my grave.
Between 1998 and 2004, I spent six isolating years in northeast China, living the life of a slave to a Chinese man. Women’s rights are a critical indicator of where a country’s human rights stand. In the DPRK a women with bad “songbun” or background will be treated like an animal or slave and she continues this destiny in China. In 1946 North Korean men and women were declared equal in law, but it was only a piece of paper. In North Korea, men are the SKY and women are the GROUND.
80% of North Korea women who escape become victims of human trafficking and are sold to Chinese men who exploit them for labour and sex. When I arrived in the Chinese village, I was shocked. I was living in an apartment. I had never seen a cabin in North Korea, but there were many in the rural areas of China.
The toilet was just about to collapse and the foul smell came into the house. I could not escape because people who lived in the village had many eyes on me and they would threaten me saying I would be stripped naked, raped in public, and would be reported to the police, and that they would secretly kill me. I was scared, living as a stranger in a stranger world with no one I knew. I wanted to die, but I remembered my father. I would overcame the hardship.
My husband had no money. He was a gambling addict. He never worked outside. I was working from early morning until the evening. We no longer had a house. One day, a man offered a free hut which was 1.8 square metres in size. That space included one room and a kitchen area; it was a security guard’s room. It was a cold wooden hut. I had to dig up the ground to find a rotting piece of wood to use as fuel.
In China, I gave birth to a son who was nameless and nationless because I was a foreigner without legal status.
In the DPRK, however, a child with a foreign parent cannot be born and is killed without question. The Chinese government does not acknowledge the existence of a person born from a North Korean mother, so the child grows up without a name, access to education, and the right of movement. There are now an estimated 20,000 children like this in China, who face a life of crime and are in dire need of help.
My husband was gambling every day, so I went to work outside to earn money. I grew bean sprouts and got some cow leather and tore it in to thinner pieces. It was hard work and my hand ached. I also gave private lessons to students, but my husband wasted the money by gambling.
Until 2004, I didn’t know much about labor camps because I was enslaved in China, struggling with my own survival. However, I became intimately aware of the horrors of a labour camp that year, when I too was arrested and repatriated.
Chinese intelligence broke into my house one night. I begged and tried to excuse myself but they would not listen to me. They placed handcuffs on my wrist and I was sent to a Chinese prison on the 30th of April, 2004. There were no visitors allowed. Soup and hard bread were served for every meal for 3 weeks. After that, I was moved to Tumen prison. Handcuffed, the police followed me even to the toilet. I could not escape.
After arrival in the prison, they first searched my body. I was naked with shame and anger. They hit me. They asked me for money. I answered, “I don’t have a penny on me. Do whatever you want,” and they hit me again. I came in to the prison at 7 am and interrogation went on until midnight. All my shoes and clothes except the ones I was wearing were taken.
The cell was full of North Korean people. I found out that the prison was specially built to hold North Koreans.
The body searches happened every day. One had to get naked in front of men. I was ordered to squat – sit down, stand up – numerous times because of the possibility that women might hide money inside their bodies. This was repeated again and again.
I was in Tumen prison for a week and then sent to North Korea.